MCCC Softball Coach Ryan Zegarski Notches 500 Wins; Most in Vikings Softball History


West Windsor, N.J. - On April 2, Hamilton native Ryan Zegarski, head coach for women’s softball at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) and assistant athletics director, reached a proud milestone. With its 12-1 victory over Genesee Community College, Zegarski’s Vikings delivered him his 500th win. The 2022 squad is currently 12-4.

Now in his 18th year, Zegarski’s overall record stands at 500-194-1. He notes that credit for the softball program’s success does not rest with him alone. “I am fortunate to have been at Mercer long enough to achieve what we have achieved. Accolades are great, but I share them with some terrific players and assistant coaches over the years.”

This season, the Vikings have many new names on the roster; nine are freshmen who are just coming out of the pandemic shutdown. “Players are learning how to get back out there and how to be teammates again,” he observes.

Assistant coaches are Tom DeStefano Jr. and former player Alisha Patel, a member of the 2018 World Series team, as well as MCCC Athletics Director John Simone.

Zegarski began coaching at MCCC in late fall of 2004 at the age of 24. His 18 seasons mark the longest tenure of any MCCC softball coach, surpassing even the famed Bill Drake, who was at the helm in the 1980s and ’90s.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Zegarski is looking ahead to some especially tough competition during the rest of April. “I’m anxious to see how the team handles the next few weeks,” he says, adding that sometimes, it takes being tested to improve. “That means being in difficult positions – blowing a lead and being able to come back, throwing a good pitch under pressure, or making a critical defensive play when the game is on the line. You don’t get better if you aren’t challenged.”

Zegarski knows all about the hard work and focus required to excel in sports. He had his own stellar collegiate baseball career, starting at MCCC under then-head coach Dave Gallagher. As a sophomore in 2000, Zegarski’s team won Region 19 and Northeast District titles en route to competing at the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) World Series.

Zegarski went on to play baseball at Stockton University, where as a junior in 2002 he led the New Jersey Athletic Conference with a .455 batting average. In 2004, he earned his bachelor’s degree in Anthropology with a minor in Sociology.

“I always knew I wanted to work in athletics in some way,” Zegarski notes. “I came to Mercer to assist on the baseball team. When Athletics Director John Simone offered me the job as softball coach, I decided to give it a try.”

Zegarski recalls having a lot to learn when he started out. After holding practices in the gym all winter, the team got off to a rocky 1-7 start. “We played some of the tougher teams right away. I thought the players would begin to doubt me, but they gave me a vote of confidence. One player said, ‘You show up for us every day, and you work with us every day.’”

Zegarski recognized that faith and trust play a key role in building a team. “They believed in what we were trying to accomplish, and they started playing better softball,” he recalls. The Vikings advanced to the Region 19 final and ended the season 22-15 that year. Their 30-16 record in his second year was even better.

Under Zegarski’s leadership, the Vikings have been to three NJCAA Division II World Series: in 2007, 2010 and 2018. Only two other MCCC softball teams – the 1987 and 1988 teams – have gone that far. The 2007 team also won Garden State Athletic Conference, Region 19 and District G titles.

Zegarski’s best teams have had three main ingredients – strong pitching, timely hitting and team leaders. But he admits that sometimes plain old luck is involved. “We’re always assessing and looking at percentages to make strategic decisions during a game, but there is some guesswork, especially when you position your defense. You can move your kids to a different area on the field and then the ball goes right where they were before. And, sometimes you need a call from the umpire to go your way,” he adds.

Zegarski gives a lot of himself, and he expects a lot in return, especially when the Vikings lose. “I want my players to reflect on the game, to think about what they could have done better, and what they need to do to correct it for the next game,” he explains.

According to Zegarski, most coaching happens during practice. “We work to correct habits players have picked up before coming to Mercer, and we work on mechanics that have presented problems during games. We have our way of teaching and doing things. That’s what has made us successful,” he says.

Like any coach, Zegarski wants his teams to win. But his larger goal is to see his players grow as athletes and as people. “I want them to work hard and learn how to do the right thing on and off field. Those lessons will really help them going forward,” he says.

Zegarski notes that coaching at the college level is a year-round job, with a practice season in the fall, a full practice and playing schedule in the spring, and recruitment at tournaments over the summer. While he and his assistants attend tournaments to scout players, they also rely on word of mouth. “That’s the best way to recruit. I’ve gotten a number of talented players in the last five years saying they heard good things about the program.”

Zegarski has seen positive changes in his time at MCCC, including facilities upgrades, more athletic scholarships, and better travel vehicles. Games are now live streamed and archived on the college website.

“I am very fortunate to have a job Iike this. But it involves many long days and weekends. I can’t do it without the support of my wife, Tiffany,” Zegarski says, adding that his time off the field is often taken up by his very energetic four-year-old son, Nicholas.

“If the day comes when I don’t want to get up early and go out recruiting, or go to practice in 40-degree weather, then it’s time to do something else,” he says. “But I still want to get up and do it. I want what’s best for the program and best for my players. I really care.”

Zegarski remains in touch with former players. Three or four recent alumna are currently playing softball at four-year schools. Not long ago, he heard from an alum who was on his team during his first two seasons. “She reached out after seeing a picture of me with my son. She is a teacher in Pennsylvania with two kids of her own. Another player from that team is a police officer in Trenton. It’s good to know that these kids are doing well,” he says.


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Coach Ryan Zegarski with the 2022 softball team, which delivered his 500th win on April 2. The team's youngest fan is Zegarski's son, Nicholas, pictured lower left, in front of his dad. Assistant Coach Tom DeStefano Jr. is at far right.



Coach Zegarski with Alisha Patel, left, and Sophia Beretski in 2018. Both players were 100+ hitters over their two years with the Vikings. Patel is an assistant coach this season, along with Tom DeStafano Jr.



All in for Vikings softball! Coach Zegarski expects a lot from his team -- and gives a lot in return.